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Thoughts upon Self-denyal.
THE most glorious Sight questionless that was ever to be seen upon the face of the Earth, was to see the Son of God here, to see the supreme Being and Governour of the World here; to see the Creator of all things conversing here with his own Creatures; to see God himself with the nature, and in the shape of Man; walking about upon the surface of the Earth, and discoursing with silly Mortals here; and that with so much Majesty and Humility mixed together, that every expression might seem a demonstration that he was both God and Man. It is true, we were not so happy as to see this blessed Sight; howsoever, it is our Happiness that we have heard of it, and have it so exactly described to us, that we may as clearly apprehend it as if we had seen it: Yea, our Saviour himself hath pronounced those in a peculiar manner blessed, who have not seen, and yet have believed, Joh. xx. 29. that is, who never saw Christ in the Manger, nor in the Temple, who never saw him prostrate before his Father in the Garden, nor fastned by Men unto his Cross; who never saw him preaching the Gospel, nor working 169Miracles to confirm it; who never saw him before his Passion, nor after his Resurrection, and yet do as firmly believe whatsoever is recorded of him, as if they had seen it with their Eyes. Such Persons our blessed Saviour himself asserts to be truly blessed, as having such a Faith as is the Substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1.
HENCE therefore, although we lived not in our Saviour’s time, and therefore saw him not do as never Man did, nor heard him speak as never Man spake, we may notwithstanding be as blessed, or rather more blessed than they that did. If we do but give credit to what is asserted of him, and receive and believe what is represented to us in his holy Gospels, where by Faith we may still see him working Miracles, and hear him declaring his Will and Pleasure to his Disciples, as really as if we had then been by him. And therefore whatsoever we read in the Gospel that he spake, we are to hearken as diligently to it; as if we heard him speak it with our own Ears, and be as careful in the performance of it, as if we had received it from his own Mouth: for so we do, though not immediately, yet by the infallible Pen of them that did so. And seeing he never spake in vain, or to no purpose, nor suffered170an idle or superfluous word to proceed out of his sacred and divine Mouth; whatsoever he asserted, we are to look upon as necessary to be believed, because he asserted it. And whatsoever be commanded, we are to look upon as necessary to be observed, because he hath commanded it; for we must not think that his Assertions are so frivolous, or his Commands so impertinent, that it is no great matter whether we believe the one and obey the other or no: No, if we expect to be justified and saved by him, he expects to be believed and obeyed by us, without which he will not look upon us as his Disciples, nor by consequence as Christians, but Strangers and Actions to him, whatsoever our Professions and Pretences are.
It is true, we live in an Age wherein Christianity in the general notion of it is highly courted, all Sects and Parties amongst us making their Pretences to it, whatsoever Opinions or Circumstances they differ in, be sure they all agree in the external Profession of the Christian Religion, and by consequence in the acknowledgment that they ought to be Christians indeed. But I fear that Men are generally mistaken about the notion of true Christianity, not thinking it to be so high and divine a thing as really it is; for if they had true and clear 171conceptions of it. they would never fancy themselves to be Christians, upon such low and pitiful grounds as usually they do, making as if Christianity consisted in nothing else, but in the external performance of some few particular Duties, and in adhering to them that profess it; whereas Christianity is a thing of a much higher and far more noble nature, than such would have it; insomuch, that did we but rightly understand it, methinks we could not but be taken with it, so as to resolve for the future to the utmost of our power to live up to it, to which could I be an instrument of persuading any, how happy should I think my self? Howsoever it is my Duty to endeavour it; and for that purpose I shall now clear up the true notion of Christianity, that we may know, not what it is to be Professors and Pretenders to Christianity, but what it is to be real Christians, and true Disciples of Christ Jesus, such as Christ will own for his in another World.
NOW to know whom Christ will accept for his Disciples, our only way is to consult Christ himself, and to consider what it is that he requires of those that follow him, in order to be his Disciples; a thing as easily understood, as it is generally disregarded; for nothing can be more plain, 172than that Christ requires and enjoins all those that would be his Disciples, to observe not only some few, but all the Commands that he hath laid upon us. Ye are my friends, saith he, and therefore my Disciples, if ye do whatsoever I command you, Joh. xv. 14. So that unless we do whatsoever he commands, us, we are so far from being his Disciples, that we are indeed his Enemies. Nay, they that would be his Disciples, must excel and surpass all others in Vertue and good Works. Herein, saith he, is my father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit, so shall ye be my disciples, Joh. xv. 8. yea and continue in them too, Joh. viii. 31. He tells us also, that they that would be his Disciples, must love him above all things, or rather, hate all things in comparison of him, Luc. xiv. 26. And that they love one another, as he hath loved them, Joh. xiii. 35. To name no more; read but St. Mat. xvi. 24. and there you may see what it is to be a Chritlian indeed, or what it is that Christ requires of those who would be his Disciples. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his Cross, and follow me. Did we but understand the true meaning of these words, and order our Conversations accordingly, we should both know what it is to be true Christians, and really be so 173our selves. For I think there is nothing that Christ requires of those who desire to be his Disciples, but we should perform it, could we but observe what is here commanded; which that we may all do, I shall endeavour to give the true meaning of them, and of every particular in them, as they lie in order.
First, saith he, If any man will come after me, that is, If any Man will be my Disciple; for Masters ye know use to go before, Scholars and Disciples to follow after. And our Saviour here speaks of himself under the notion of a Master, that hath Disciples coming after him, and saith, that if any one would be one of his Disciples, so as to go after him, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow him. So that here are three things which our blessed Saviour requires of those that would be his Disciples, and by consequence of us who profess to be so; for I dare say, there is none of us but desires to be a Christian, or at least to be thought so; for we all know and believe Jesus Christ to be the only Saviour of Mankind, that none an save us but he, and that there is none of us but he can save, and that all those who truly come to him for Pardon and Salvation, shall must certainly have it: Hence it is that we would all be thought at least so wise, 174and to have so much Care of our own Souls as to go after Christ, and be his Disciples. I hope there are but few but who really desire to be so. But I would not have any think that it is so easy a Matter to be a Disciple of Christ, or a real and true Christian, as the World would make it; no, we may assure ourselves, that as it is the highest Honour and Happiness we can attain unto, so we shall find it the hardest matter in the World to attain unto it; not in its own Nature, but by reason of its Contrariety to our natural Temper and Inclinations. For here we see what it is that our blessed Saviour requires of those that would go after him, even nothing less than to deny themselves, take up their Crosses, and follow him. All which are far greater things than at the first sight or reading they may seem to be.
FOR first, saith he, If any one will come after me, let him deny himself; which being the first thing which Christ requires of those that go after him, it is necessary that we search more narrowly into the Nature of it. For if we fail in this, we cannot but fail in all the rest. And therefore, for the opening of this, I shall not trouble the Reader with the various Expositions, and the divers Opinions of learned Men concerning these words, but only 175mind him in general, that the Self-denyal here spoken of is properly opposed to Self-love, or that corrupt and vicious Habit of the Soul, whereby we are apt to admire and prefer our own Fancies, Wills, Desires, Interests, and the like, before Christ himself, and what he is pleased either to promise to us or require of us. And therefore, when he commands us to deny our selves, his Will and Pleasure in general is this, That we do not indulge, or gratify our selves in any thing that stands in Opposition against, and comes into Competition with his Interest in the world, or ours in him, howsoever near and dear it may be unto us. But to deny our selves whatsoever is pleasing to our selves, if it be not so to God and Christ too, so as not to live to our selves, but only unto him that dyed for us, to live as those who are none of our own, but are bought with a Price, and therefore should glorify God both in our Souls and in our Bodies, which are his, 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. But seeing this is not only the first Lesson to be learnt by Christ’s Disciples, but that which is necessarily required in order to whatsoever else he commands from us, I shall shew you more particularly what it is in your selves that you are to deny.176
FIRST, you must deny your own Reasons in Matters of divine Revelation, so as to use them no farther than only to search into the Grounds and Motives that we have to believe them to be revealed by God. For this being either proved or supposed, we are not to suffer our Reasons to be too curious in searching into them, but believe them upon the Word and Testimony of God himself, who is the supreme Truth, or Verity itself.
FOR we who by all our Art and Cunning cannot understand the reasons of the most common and obvious things in Nature, must not think to comprehend the great Mysteries of the Gospel, which tho’ they be not contrary to our Reasons, are infinitely above them. For the natural Man received not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are Foolishness to him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned, 1 Cor. ii. 14. So that to the understanding of the things of the Spirit, or which the Spirit of God hath resealed to us, there is a great deal more required than what we have by Nature, even the supernatural Assistance of the Spirit himself that revealed them. And therefore if any Man amongst us seemeth to be wise in this World, let him become a Fool that he may be wise, 1 Cor. iii. 18. that is, 177He that would be wise unto Salvation, must look upon himself as a Fool, as one incapable by Nature of understanding the things that belong unto his everlasting Peace, without both the Revelation and Assistance of God himself, and therefore must not rely upon his own Judgment, but only upon God’s Testimony in what he doth believe; not believing what his Reason, but what God’s Word tells him; looking upon it as reason enough why he should believe it, because God hath said it.
I know this is an hard Doctrine to Flesh and Blood. For as Job tells us, Vain Man would be wise, though Man be born like a wild Ass’s Colt, Job xi. 12. Though by nature we bee never so foolish, vain and ignorant; understanding the great Mysteries of the Gospel no more than a wild Ass’s Colt doth a mathematical Demonstration, yet howsoever we would fain be thought very wise Men, yea so wise as to be able to comprehend Matters of the highest, yea of an infinite Nature, within the narrow compass of our finite and shallow Capacities. But this is that which we must deny our selves in, if we desire to be Christ’s Disciples, so as to acquiesce in his Word, and believe what he asserts, only because he asserts it; without suffering our Reason to interpose, but looking upon his Word 178as more than all the Reasons and Arguments in the World besides.
2. YOU must deny your own Wills. Our Wills, it is true, at first were made upright and perfect, every way correspondent to the Will of God himself, so as to will what he wills, that is what is really Good, and to nill what he nills, that is what is really Evil. But being now perverted, and corrupt with Sin, our Wills are naturally inclined to the Evil which they should he averse from and averse from the Good which they should be inclined to. So that instead of chusing the Good and refusing the Evil, we are generally apt to chuse the Evil and refuse the Good: Yet for all that our Wills are thus crooked and pervese, we cannot endure to have them crossed or thwarted in any thing, but would needs have our own Wills in every thing, so as neither to do any thing our selves, nor yet have any thing done to us, but just as our selves will, who Will usually just contrary to what we should. But now they that would be Christ’s Disciples, must not be thus self-willed, but deny themselves the fulfilling of their own Wills, when it doth not consist with the Will of God to have them fulfilled. This our Lord and Master hath taught us by his Example as well as Precept, saying, Father, 179if thou be willing remove this Cup from me, nevertheless not my Will but thine be done, Luk. xxii. 42. Where we may observe that our blessed, Saviour, as Man, could not but have a natural Averseness from Death, as all Men by Nature have, and that without Sin. Yet though Christ’s Will, as Man, was never so pure and perfect, yet he wholly submits it to the Will of God. he manifested indeed that it was the Will of that Nature which he had assumed, not to suffer Death, saying, if it is possible let this Cup pass from me, but he shews withal that the Will of Man must still be subject to the Will of God; and that Man, even as Man, must deny his own Will, whensoever it runneth not exactly parallel with God’s, saying, nevertheless, not my Will but thine be done.
AND if Christ himself denyed his own most pure and perfect Will, that his Father’s might be accomplished, how much more Cause have we to deny our Wills, which by nature are always contrary to his Will, yea and to our own Good too, preferring generally that which is evil and destructive to us, before that which is truly good and advantageous for us? And verily a great part of true Christianity consisteth in thus resigning our Wills to God’s, not minding so much which way our own 180Inclinations bend as what his Pleasure and Command is. A notable Instance whereof we have in old Eli, who questionless could not but be very willing that the Iniquity of his Sons might be forgiven, and his Family prosper in the World, yet howsoever when God had manifested his Pleasure to him, that his House should be destroyed, he submitted his own Will wholly unto God’s, saying, It it the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good, 1 Sam. iii. 18. And whosoever of us would be Christ’s Disciple indeed, must be sure thus to deny and renounce his own Will, whensoever it appears to be contrary unto God’s, so as even to will, that not his own Will but God’s be fulfilled, as our Lord and Master himself hath taught us each Day to pray, Thy Will done in Earth as it is in Heaven. And whosoever hath learn’d this Art of making his own Will bow and stoop to God’s, hath made a very good Progress in the Christian Religion, especially in that part of it which requires us to deny our selves
AND seeing we must deny our Wills, we must needs deny our Affections too, which are indeed nothing else but the several Motions of the Will towards Good and Evil, but usually they are so disorderly and irregular, as to place themselves 181upon Objects directly opposite to what they were designed for; so that we ordinarily love what we ought to hate, and hate what we ought to love; desire what we ought to abhor, and abhor what we ought to desire; rejoyce in those things which we ought to grieve for, and are grieved at such things as we ought to rejoyce in. So that if we suffer our Affections to move, according to their natural Tendency and corrupt Inclinations, we shall be so far from going after Christ, that we shall continually be running from him. And therefore it must be our great Care and Study to bridle our Affections, deny them their unlawful, and fix them upon their proper Objects; yea, and to deny our selves too the lawful use of such things as our Affections are apt to be unlawfully placed upon. As for Example: It is lawful, yea our Duty to love our Relations, but if our Love to them becomes exorbitant, so as to love them more than God, our Love to them must be turned into Hatred in Comparison of our Love to him, Luk. xiv. 26. And whatsoever lawful thing it is that we take Pleasure in, if once we find that our Pleasure in that extinguisheth, or but damps that Pleasure which we used, or ought to have in God, we are to deny our selves such Pleasures as 182these are, and rather displease our selves than God.
YEA we must deny our selves moreover the Use and Enjoyment of our Estates and earthly Possessions, whensoever they come into Competition with his Glory. So that if it comes to that Point, that we must either leave our Estates to enjoy Christ, or leave Christ to enjoy our Estates; we must be willing and ready, without any more ado, to abandon and renounce whatsoever else we have, rather than our Interest in Christ. For indeed he is not worthy to be Christ’s Disciple that doth not prefer him before all things else; neither he that loves the World at all in Comparison of Christ: For if any Man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1 Joh. ii. 15. And therefore he that would be Christ’s Disciple indeed, must fix his Heart so fast on Christ, that it hang loose and indifferent as to all things here below, being no more proud of them, no more delighted in them, no more concerned about them, than as if he had them not. So that though he have all things besides Christ, he must have nothing but him, or at least in Comparison of him; yea, be ready to part with all that he may gain Christ. And though many of us may think this an hard Saying, we may assure our 183selves, it is no more than what we must do, if we, desire to be Christ’s Disciples;
FURTHERMORE, we must deny our selves those Sins especially, and Lusts which we have or do still indulge our selves in, for thus the Gospel teacheth you in a particular manner, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, Tit. ii. 12. And therefore we in vain pretend to be true Christians, so long as we live in any one known Sip with any love unto it, or delight in it. I suppose none of my Readers guilty of all Sins, and I fear there are few but live in some. No Man but may be naturally averse from some Sins, but it is very rare to find one that is inclined to none; for ordinarily every Man hath his darling, his beloved Sin, his own Sin, as David himself once had, though he afterwards, kept himself from it, Psal. xviii. 23. So I fear none of my Readers but have some Sin, which he may in a peculiar manner call his own, as being that which his thoughts run most upon, and his desires are carried most unto, which he labours most after, and takes most pleasure in; which he is most loth, to be reproved for and most easily overcome by. Now this and whatsoever other Sins any of us are addicted to, we must wholly leave, and 184utterly renounce, if ever we desire to be Christ’s Disciples. And therefore, so long as any of us live in any known Sin, as in Pride or Prodigality, in Oppression, or Covetousness, in Malice or Uncleanness, in Drunkenness, Uncharitableness, or any other Sin whatsoever, we must not think our selves to be Christians indeed, Christ will never own us for his Disciples, for so long as we live in any known Sin, it is that Sin, not Christ that is our Master, and therefore if we would list our selves into his Service, we must be sure to deny our selves whatsoever we know to be offensive to him.
THERE is still another thing behind wherein we must deny our selves, if we desire to go after Christ, and that is, we must deny and renounce all our Self-righteousness, and all hopes and confidences from our selves, and from what we have done, which I look upon as a very great piece of Self-denyal, for naturally we are all prone to sacrifice to our own Nets, to burn incense to our own Drags, to boast of our own good Works, and to pride our selves with the conceit of our own Righteousness. Though we he never so sinful, we would not be thought to be so, but would very fain be accounted righteous, not only by Men, but by God himself, for something 185or other which our selves do, though when all comes to all, we know not what that should be; but howsoever the pride of our Hearts is such, that we are loth to go out of our selves to look for Righteousness, or to be beholden to another for it. And this is the reason that Justification by Faith in Christ hath had so many Adversaries in the World; Mankind in general being so much in love with themselves, and doting upon what themselves do, that they cannot endure to renounce and vilifie then own Obidience and good Works, so much as to think that they stand in need of any other Righteousness besides their own; as if their own Righteousness was so perfect, that God himself could find no fault with it, nor make any Exceptions against it, but must needs acknowledge them to be just and righteous Persons for it.
WHEREAS, alas! there is not the best Action that ever a mere Mortal did, but if examined by the strict Rules of Justice, it is far from being good, yea so far, that God himself may justly pronounce it evil, and by consequence condemn the Person that did it, for doing of it. And therefore I cannot but wonder what it is that any Man doth or can do, for which he can in reason expect to be justified before God, our very Righteousness being as the Prophet 186tells, but as filthy rags, and our most holy Performances fraught With Sin and Imperfection, and therefore so far from justifying us, that we may justly be condemned for them; but this Mankind doth not love to hear of, the pride of our Hearts being such, that by all means we must have something in our selves whereof to glory before God himself. But wo be to that Person who hath no other Righteousness but his own, wherein to appear before the Judge of the whole World. For howsoever specious his Actions may seem to Men, they will be adjudged Sins before the eternal God.
He therefore that would come to Christ, although he must labour after Righteousness to the utmost of his Power, yet when he hath done all, he must renounce it and look upon himself as an unprofitable Servant, For Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, Mat. ix. 13. that is, he came not to call such Persons as think they have Righteousness enough of their own to serve their turns, for such Persons think they have no need of him, and therefore it would be in vain to call them; but he calls Sinners, that is, such as may perhaps be as righteous as the other, but they do not think themselves to be so, but look upon themselves as undone 187for ever, unless they have something else to trust to, than their own good Works and Obedience to the Moral Law. Such Persons therefore Christ came to call, and if they come to him, they cannot but find Rest and Righteousness in him; and if any of us desire to go after Christ, so as to be his Disciples, we must be sure to look upon our selves as Sinners, as deserving nothing but Wrath and Vengeance for whatsoever we have done, we must renounce all our own Righteousness, and be so far from depending upon it, as to think that we have none to depend upon, for so really we have not. And when we have laid aside all thoughts of our own Righteousness, as to the matter of our Justification before God, then, and not till then, shall we be rightly qualified so embrace anothers, even that Righteousness which is by Faith in Christ. Thus St. Paul, though he had as much, yea more reason to trust in the Flesh or in himself than others; for himself saith, that as touching the righteousness which is of the law, he was blameless. Phil. iii. 6. Yet saith he, what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I 188 may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith, v. 7, 8, 9. Thus therefore it is that all those must do, who desire to be as St. Paul was, real Disciples of Jesus Christ, as we must forsake our Sins, so we must renounce our Righteousness too. It is true, this is a great and difficult part of Self-denyal, thus to deny our selves all that Pride, Pleasure and Confidence, which we used to take in the thoughts of our own Righteousness and Obedience to the Law of God. But we must remember that the first thing which our Saviour enjoins those that come after him, is to deny themselves.
THUS I have shewn what it is in our selves that we must deny, and how it is that we must deny our selves, if we desire to go after Christ; we must deny our selves the curiosity of searching too much into the Mysteries of the Gospel, by the light of our own clouded Reasons, we must deny our Self-conceit, our Self-will, our Self-love, Self-interests, Self-confidences, and whatsoever proceeds from and terminates in our sensual and sinful selves, so as to have no delight in nor dependence upon our selves; yea, we must so deny our selves, as to be quite taken off of our former 189selves, and become other Creatures than what before we were. Thus St. Ambrose explains these words, saying, Seipsum sibi homo abneget & totus mutetur, Let a Man deny himself to himself, so as to be wholly changed from what he was. But then you’ll say, what need is there of all this trouble, what reason can be given that a Man must deny himself before he can be a true Christian.
TO that I answer, it is reason enough that Christ hath commanded us to do it, and surely he best knows whom he will accept of as his Disciples, and what is necessary to be done in order to our being so. And he hath said in plain terms, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, implying, that he that doth not deny himself, cannot go after him.
BUT before that, there is an impossibility in the thing it self, that any one should be a true Christian, or go after Christ, and, not deny himself, as may be easily perceived, if we will but consider what true Christianity requires of us, and what it is to be a real Christian. A true Christian we know is one that lives by Faith, and not by Sight, that looks not at the things which are seen, but at those things which are not seen, that believes whatsoever Christ hath said, trusteth on whatsoever he hath 190promised, and obeyeth whatsoever he hath commanded, that receiveth Christ as his only Priest to make atonement for him, as his only Prophet to instruct, and as his only Lord and Master to rule and govern him. In a word, a Christian is one that gives up himself and all he hath to Christ, who gave himself and all he hath to him; and therefore the very notion of true Christianity implies and supposes the denyal of our selves, without which it is as impossible for a Man to be a Christian, as it is for a Subject to be rebellious and loyal to his Prince at the same time; and therefore it is absolutely necessary that we go out of our selves before we can go to him, we must strip our selves of our very selves before we can put on Christ, for Christ himself hath told us, that No man can serve two masters, for either he hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other, Mat. vi. 24. We cannot serve both God and Mammon, Christ and our selves too; so that we must either deny our selves to go after Christ, or else deny Christ to go after our selves, so as to mind our own selfish ends and designs in the World.
WHEREFORE I hope I need not use any other Arguments to persuade any to deny themselves in the sense already explained; 191I dare say there is none amongst us but would willingly be what we profess, even a real Christian, and so go after Christ here, as to come to him hereafter. But we have now seen how Christ himself hath told us, that we must deny our selves, if we desire to serve and enjoy him. And verily it is an hard case it we cannot deny our selves for him, who so far denied himself for us, as to lay down his own Life to redeem ours. He who was equal to God himself, yea who himself was the true God, so far denied himself as to become Man, yea, A man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, for us, and cannot we deny our selves so much as a Fancy, a Conceit, a Sin or Lust for him? How then can we expect that he should own us for his Friends, his Servants or Disciples? No, he’ll never do it, neither can we in reason expect that he should give himself and all the Merits of his Death and Passion unto us, so long as we think much to give our selves to him, or to deny our selves for him. And therefore if we desire to be made Partakers of all those glorious things that he hath purchased with his own most precious Blood for the Sons of Men; let us begin here, indulge our Flesh no longer, but deny our selves whatsoever God hath been pleased to forbid. And for that end, let us endeavour each 192Day more and more to live above our selves, above the temper of our Bodies, and above the allurements of the World, live as those who believe and profess that they are none of their own, but Christ’s, his by Creation, it was he that made us, his by Preservation, it is he that maintains us, and his by Redemption, it is he that hath purchased and redeemed us with his own Blood. And therefore let us deny our selves for the future to our very selves, whose we are not, and devote our selves to him whose alone we are; by this we shall manifest our selves to be Christ’s Disciples indeed, especially if we do not only deny our selves, but also take up our Cross and follow him; which brings me to the second thing which our blessed Saviour here requires of those who would go after him, even to take up their Cross.
WHERE, by the Cross, we are m understand whatsoever Troubles or Calamities, inward or outward, we meet with in the performance of our Duty to God or Man, which they that would go after Christ must take up as they go along, without any more ado, neither repining at them, nor sinking under them; for we must not think that Christ invites us into an earthly Paradise of Idleness and outward Pleasures, as if we had nothing to do or suffer for 193him. For even as Men, we cannot but find many Crosses in the World, but as Christians we must expect more, for Christ himself hath told us, that in the World we shall have Tribulation, John xvi. 33. And therefore whatsoever we meet with, is no more than what we are to look for; especially if we walk uprightly in the way that leads to Heaven, we cannot but expect to meet with many a rub, for God himself hath told us that it is through many tribulation that we must enter into the kingdom of heaven, Act. xiv. 22. And therefore we must not think to be carried up to Heaven with the breath of popular Applause, nor to swim through a deluge of carnal Pleasures into the haven of everlasting Happiness. No, we must look to be tossed to and fro in this World, as in a raging and tempestuous Ocean, and never look for perpetual Calmness and Tranquillity, until we are got above the Clouds, yea even above the Sun and Stars themselves. This World was always a World of trouble, and ever will be, its very Friends, and they that have their Portion here, can find no quiet nor satisfaction in it; but the Diciples of Christ they are not of this world, as Christ himself tells us, John xvii. 4. And therefore no wonder if the World frowns more upon them than others. The way they walk 194in is opposite to the World, it is enmity it self to the Flesh, and therefore no wonder if they meet with so much Enmity and Opposition here; the way wherein they go after Christ is a cross way, it is cross to Sin, cross to Satan, cross to the World, cross to our very selves as we are by Nature, and by consequence cross to all Men in the World but Christ’s Disciples, and therefore it is no wonder they meet with so many crosses in it. But howsoever, if we desire to go after Christ, he hath told us before hand what we must expect, as he hath born the Cross before us, he expects that we now bear it after him; yea we must not only bear it, but take it up too: Not that we should run our selves into danger, but that we should baulk no Duty to avoid it, so as to be willing and ready to undergo the greatest suffering, rather than to commit the least Sin, and to run the greatest danger rather than neglect the smallest Duty. If whilst we are walking in the narrow path of Holiness, there happens to lie a Cross in the way, we must not go on one side nor on the other side of it out of the path we walk in, neither must we kick and spurn at it, but we must patiently take it up and carry it along with us; if it be a little heavy at first, it will soon grow lighter, and not at all hinder, 195but rather further our progress towards Heaven.
BUT here we must have a great care to understand our Saviour’s meaning, and so our own Duty aright; for we must not think that every trouble we meet with in the World is the Cross of Christ, for we may suffer for our fancy or humour, or perhaps for our Sin and Transgression of the Laws of God or Men, and if so, it is our own Cross, not Christ’s which we take upon us; we may thank our selves for it, I am sure Christ hath no cause to thank us: For this is thankworthy, saith the Apostle, if a man for conscience towards God, endure grief, suffering wrongfully, 1 Pet. ii. 19, 20. And therefore the Duty which our Saviour here imposeth on us, in few terms is this, that we be ready not only to do, but to suffer what we can for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel, and that we omit no Duty, nor commit any Sin for fear of suffering; not to think much of any trouble that befals us for Christ’s sake, but rather to rejoice at it, even as the Apostles rejoiced, that they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for his name, Act. v. 41. Which was a clear instance of their performing the Duty here enjoined both them and us, under the name of taking up our Cross.196
AND I hope there is none of us can take it ill that Christ hath imposed so severe a Duty upon us; for we may assure our selves he requires no more of us than what himself hath undergone before, so that we can suffer nothing for him, but what he hath suffered before for us. Have we grief and trouble in our Hearts? so had he, Mat. xxvi. 38. Have we pains and tortures in our Bodies? so had he, Mat. xxvii. 29, 30. Are we derided and scoffed at? so was he, Mat. xxvii. 31. Are we arraigned or condemned, yea do we suffer death it self? it is no more than what our Lord and Master hath done before. And let us remember what he told us when he was upon the Earth, The disciple is not above his master, nor the fervent above his lord, Mat. x. 24. If we be Christ’s Disciples, we cannot expect to fare better in the World than Christ himself did, neither indeed can we fare so bad; for it is impossible that we should undergo so much for him as he hath undergone for us, ours being only the Sufferings of Men, his the Sufferings of one who was God as well as Man, whereby Sufferings in general are sanctified to our human nature, it having already undergone them in the Person of the Son of God, so that it can be now no disparagement at all to undergo any trouble, as hatred, 197reproach, poverty, pain, yea death it self, or any other Calamity whatsoever in this World, seeing the Son of God himself, he that made the World, underwent the same while himself was in it. And therefore we need not think it below us to stoop down and take up the Cross of Christ, as considering that Christ having born it before us, hath so blessed and sanctified it unto us; that it is now become an honourable, an advantageous, yea and a pleasant Cross, to them that bear it patiently, thankfully and constantly as they ought to do, especially seeing it is such a Cross as leads unto a Crown; and whatsoever we can do or suffer for Christ here, will be fully recompenced with Glory hereafter, and therefore instead of being troubled to take up our Cross, we are rather to rejoice that we have any to take up.
THUS we see in few words what it is which our Saviour commands from us when he enjoins us to deny our selves, and take up our Cross, even that we do not gratifie our selves in any thing that is ungrateful unto him, nor grudge to take up any Cross, or suffer any trouble we meet with in the World for his sake, thinking nothing too dear to forsake, nor any thing too heavy to bear for him, who thought not his own Life too dear, nor the Cross 198it self too heavy to bear for us; what now remains, but that knowing our Saviour’s pleasure, we should all resolve to do it. There is none of us but hope and desire to be saved by him, but that we can never be, unless we observe what he hath prescribed in order to our Salvation: And amongst other things, we see how he hath commanded us, to deny our selves, and take up our Cross; as any of us therefore desires to be Christians indeed, so as to see Christ’s face with comfort in another World, let us bethink our selves seriously what Sins we have hitherto indulged our selves in; I fear there are but few, if any amongst us, but are conscious to themselves, that they have and do still live, either in the constant neglect of some known Duty, or else in the frequent commission of same beloved Sin; what that is, I dare not undertake to tell, but leave that to God and to Mens own Consciences; only I desire them to deal faithfully with their own Souls, and not suffer themselves to be fooled into a fond and vain persuasion that they have any interest in Christ, or are truly his Disciples, until they deny themselves that Sin, whatsoever it is, which they have hitherto indulged themselves in. And let us not think that we shall deny one selves any real pleasure or profit, by renouncing our Sins; for what 199pleasure can we have in displeasing God, or profit in losing our own Souls? No, we shall gratifie our selves more than we can imagine, by denying our selves as much as we are able, whatsoever is offensive or displeasing unto God; for we may be sure, he that came into the World on purpose to save us from evil, commands us nothing but for our own good, neither would he ever have oblig’d us to deny our selves, if we could have been saved without it, and as for the Cross that he was so well acquainted with, that he would never have imposed it upon us to take it up, but that it is indispensably necessary for us. And therefore if we be what we pretend, real and true Christians, let us manifest it to the World and to our own Consciences, by denying our selves whatsoever Christ hath denied us, and by observing whatsoever he hath commanded us, even to the taking up of any Cross, that he for his own sake shall suffer to be laid upon us, still remembring, that Self-denyal, though it be unpleasant, is a most necessary Duty; and the Cross, though it be never so heavy, it is but short, and hath nothing less than a Crown annexed unto it, a glorious and eternal Crown, which all those shall most certainly obtain, who deny themselves.200
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